Big water and bright lights

Trip Start Dec 14, 2007
Trip End Mar 16, 2009

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Flag of Canada  , Ontario,
Monday, September 15, 2008

It was great being behind the wheel again after our short drive around the London this time however it was on the other side of the road, fortunately three years of driving on the wrong side of the road in Dubai made this conversion very easy. Leaving Toronto I felt that the driving was a lot more aggressive than I expected, this might just have been typical city driving. The speed limit like in Australia was a mind-numbing 100km/h even of 5 lane highways. This didn't seem to deter the many trucks on the road that came belting past us at 120km/h or more, not fun in a small car.

Once we had passed the city limits and industrial areas we turned off the highway and passed through some beautiful country side where one little village seemed to merged into the next. The Niagara area produces of some of the best Canadian wines and most notably their world famous ice wines. We plotted a route along the back roads which took us past dozens of wine estates and we wasted no time stopping at the first on the trail. Kittling Ridge not only produced some good wines but also some of the finest Canadian whisky, or so the multitude of awards told us. The day we arrived their reserve whisky's had been released and people were flocking in to buy their quota, must be very popular stuff, I did manage to get a taste and it was lovely.

On route to Niagara we stopped at a few more wine estates and started getting a feel for the wines produced in this area. We had no great expectations as Canada is not known to be a great wine producer but were pleasantly surprised by a few of the estates. Before we'd arrived I never knew Canada produced anything besides ice wine but soon we found out besides a few unheard of varietals they were able to produce a few good wooded Chardonnays, some very interesting Fume Blanc's and some juicy reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir.

And since the Niagara area geographically fell on the same latitude as Bordeaux in France there were even a few producers making Bordeaux style wines with some success. We would have tasted a lot more were it not for the fact that you have to pay for most of the tastings with some wavering the tasting fee if you make a purchase. This annoys me immensely as you end up paying to taste wines that are terrible and not worth buying, the way I see it is they should pay me for assaulting my pallet!

We arrived in Niagara al little after 5pm and checked into hostel, at first glance we were going to make a run for it and find a neater looking hostel but we decided to see the rooms first. Even though the room looked as if they were decorated when Marry Poppins was still around it was however big but sparse and importantly quite, which was just what we needed after the noisy hostel in Toronto

Not realising how big or actually small Niagara actually was we hopped in the car to take a drive through the town. If I had not seen the falls I would have sworn I was in a mini Los Vegas, Niagara was full of flashing lights, wax museums, novelty stores and other tourist traps, not at all what we were expecting. When we got onto the main road running along the falls we were immediately blown away by the size of the falls. When you see the falls from the road you can't see the bottom so they look much bigger than they really are. The bigger of the two falls, the horse shoe, is only 53m high but what really makes it spectacular is that it's a whopping 792m wide. An enormous amount of water flows over the falls and a giant cloud can be seen rising into the sky. This is truly one of natures great wonders, if you ignore the man made mess behind you.

We made the most of our visit to the falls by visiting them during the late afternoon till sunset then returned later that evening when the coloured lights were switched on and then again early the next morning for sunrise. The only thing we didn't do was the Maid of the Mist which is the boat that lakes you on a cruise all the way up to the base of the falls where you can truly feel the power of the water and get a good soaking, we chose instead to get a soaking of another kind.

A little way down stream at a village called Niagara on Lake, Gilmore Girls fans will know where this is, we boarded a Jet boat for a ride up the rapids towards the falls. We'd previously taken a ride on the Shotover Jet boat in New Zealand where you skim across a shallow river narrowly missing rock which is great fun but scary has hell. The Whirlpool Jet boat ride uses a much larger boat seating up to 50 people but packed with massive 1,650 horse power. The boat starts with a smooth ride along the river before it reaches the grade 5 rapids it was designed to plough through. The next 30 minutes are spent smashing through rapids and getting completely soaked, from head to toe. I few times we were hit with so much water we though the boat would sink. It was great fun and the power of the boat was incredible, it wasn't as nerve wrecking as the Shotover Jet but definitely a must for anyone who has never been white water rafting before.

After our soaking we took a drive through the picturesque little Niagara on Lake as Inge-Marie was a big Gilmore Girls fan, to me it was just a pretty little town on a beautiful lake. Not far from the town was the famous ice wine producer, Inniskillin. Ice wine for anyone who doesn't know is unique because as the name suggests it is harvested when it is frozen to preserve the delicate flavours. So farmers can only harvest the grapes in the dead of night if for the last three consecutive days the temperature has been below 8 degrees Celsius. Real hard work and by the time the grapes are picked they look almost like raisins and are very sweet. The berries are then crushed while frozen and then fermented much like other wines.

Due to the very low yield and labour intensive harvesting process this means that a bottle of ice wine comes at quirt a price. We sampled the vidal ice wine which had wonderful apricot aromas and a beautiful crisp sweetness, perfect with a thin slice if parmesan cheese. Out of curiosity we also reluctantly paid to sample some of their very expensive sparkling ice wine. Inge-Marie was in her element and savoured every delicious sip but for $60 a bottle that was all she was going to get. Besides their great ice wines Inniskillin also produced some excellent wooded chardonnay and Pinot Noir which we bought a bottle of to enjoy on her birthday in a few days time.

Two days is all we needed in Niagara and I was literally itching, to get back on the road and see more of Canada. Our idea was to backtrack towards Toronto on route to Montreal but to stop somewhere in-between for the night.
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